Heriot Watt Malaysia’s Green Roof


Leading British university Heriot Watt recently opened a campus in Putrajaya, Malaysia, its second campus outside of Scotland after Dubai.

Living Grass Roof Heriot Watt University

The most striking feature of this airy lakefront building is its curved roof which is being topped with grass. It is said to the first living grass roof of its kind in Malaysia and presumably is intended to provide insulation and reduce air-conditioning costs. It is 300m long and 30m wide and construction involves laying a waterproof membrane, installing an irrigation system and planting the right type of grass to prevent it being washed away.

It will be interesting to see how successful the roof is. In my experience, even conventional roofs in Malaysia are prone to leaking during torrential downpours, without having several tons of wet soil on the roof.


Heriot Watt is in a good location, facing the Pullman Putrajaya Hotel, where the students can splash out on a meal, and alongside Marina Putrajaya where they can enjoy water sports such as waterskiing, rowing and sailing.

Lake Facilities Near HeriotWatt

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Om Sri Maha Athi Nageswary Amman Hindu Temple at Puchong Gateway

There is an intriguing new Hindu temple under construction at Jalan Seri Kembangan, Puchong Gateway. I noticed it from the LDP highway and took a detour for a closer look.

Om Sri Maha Athi Nageswary Amman Temple

Om Sri Maha Athi Nageswary Amman Temple nearing completion at Puchong Gateway.

The sign outside bears the name Om Sri Maha Athi Nageswary Amman. 

Nagas are snakes that take human form and Nageswary Amman is referred to as the Snake Goddess. There is another temple with a similar name in Bangsar. It was built on the site of a snake mound and a pair of cobras inhabit the mound and guard the temple’s inner sanctum. Perhaps there is a snake nest at this site too.

Seven Cobra Headed Pillars

Seven Cobra Headed Pillars

Seven pillars topped with seven-headed cobras provide shelter to the deities perched below.

The temple is painted a bright yellow colour, which is an auspicious colour in Hinduism.

Ornate carvings embellish  the statues and the gopuram.

Ornate carvings embellish the statues and the gopuram.

The gopuram (multi-tiered, pyramidal entrance tower) appears to have seven levels, the number seven seemingly having some significance in this temple.

Did you know? According to Hindu tradition, the marriage bond between a married couple is said to last seven lifetimes.  So if you are fed up with your wife (or husband), tough luck because you’ve got her for another six lifetimes after this one! Or maybe you’ve been married for six lifetimes already which is why you are fed up with each other.

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MAHA 2014

MAHA 2014

MAHA 2014, (stands for Malaysia Agriculture, Horticulture & Agrotourism show) is now on in Putrajaya and will continue until 30th November 2014.

This 11-day biennial event is the leading agricultural show of its kind in Malaysia and indeed in the region.

It is a hugely popular expo with 2,500 booths and more than 2 million people expected to attend.

Here are a few photos from the event taken this morning.

Giant Jackfruit and other fruits.

There are plenty of tasty food items on sale such as these giant jackfruits.

Nipa Palm NutsMore unusual items like this cluster of nipa palm nuts (nypa fruticans) are on display. The sap of these tropical nuts is used to produce vinegar and alcoholic arak known as lambanog in the Philippines. According to Wikipedia, fossilised nipa nuts have been found  on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent evidencing that Britain had a much warmer climate in times gone by.

Kelubi fruit (Salacca Conferta)This bunch of fruit is from another swamp-dwelling palm known in Malay as Kelubi (salacca conferta). In Malaysian cuisine this fruit is pickled and used as a substitute for tamarind in sambals and other condiments.

Fig Fruit Juice Stall

There are plenty of free samples to eat and drink while browsing the booths. This vendor is selling a juice made from figs which he mixes with honey to make it less sour. It tastes pretty good and is claimed to lower cholesterol and have other health benefits.

Handicraft stall at MAHA2014

There are nice handicraft items on sale including attractive pictures made from the leaves and petals of real flowers.

Real Flower PictureOutside the massive exhibition halls the show spreads over a vast 100 hectare site so there is a lot to see.

Railway Carriage used as a greenhouse at MAHA 2014

Flowers at MAHA 2014

For details of timings and location you can read more on my Malaysia Traveller website.

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Longevity and Knees

Stamford RafflesRaffles

Stamford Raffles was an exceptional man. Best remembered as the founder of Singapore, he had vision, energy and ability. The only thing he lacked was longevity and he died at the relatively young age of 44.

No doubt the rigours of living in the tropics in the early 19th century took their toll on his health but could it have been something else?

Finite Energy Theory

It was a commonly held belief in Britain at that time that people were born with a finite store of energy and that this energy should be conserved and not expended in unessential activities like exercise. Raffles had boundless energy and his contemporaries might have speculated that this is why he burnt up his reserves too quickly and died early.

Lifespan Measured in Breaths Theory

This way of thinking is similar to some Indian philosophies where it is thought that our lifespan is measured in breaths and that we are destined to live a set number of breaths and once we breathe our last allotted breath, time’s up.

This could be why yogis place so much emphasis on controlling our breathing. If we could slow down our breathing by half we would live twice as long, according to that thinking.

When we exercise vigorously, we breathe faster. Does this mean we are actually shortening our lives? Could this be why so many professional footballers and other sportsmen seem to die young?

Most experts would discount these theories and argue that it is proven beyond doubt that the benefits of exercise outweigh any negatives.


IMG_2059But does the same apply to kneecaps? And hip joints? Are kneecaps designed to last for only a certain number of movements, say five million steps, and after that limit is reached they are worn out and need replacing, like a car part? Or are kneecaps capable of regenerating themselves and, if so, is continued exercise of the knees a good thing?

I ask this as someone who has probably used up his quota of steps and suffers from occasional knee pangs. Any expert opinion would be welcome.

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Traveller’s Palm

I cannot claim to have green fingers, especially as I employ a gardener to do all the hard work.

But one gardening achievement I am rather proud of is my traveller’s palm.

When I planted it in my garden some 5 years ago it was quite a puny sapling.

My traveller's palm sapling in 2009

Since then it has grown into a magnificent specimen with a fan of symmetrical branches and a sturdy trunk.


What’s the secret? Apart from luck in picking a suitable spot for planting, regular watering with worm tea (produced from my home vermiculture kit) might have had something to do with it. That, and regular pruning by the gardener of the lower stalks as they become old, brown and tatty.

Travellers Palm seeds. Source: Wikipedia

The tree has never flowered so far which is a pity because their seeds are an incredible, vivid lapis lazuli colour. In their native Madagascar, Traveller’s Palms are pollinated by lemurs. We are not likely to get lemurs in our garden in Malaysia. Could monkeys do the trick? Or one of our strange squirrels perhaps?

Malaysian Squirrel

Some say that travellers palms are not good to have around because water collects at the junctions of the stalks and provides a breeding ground for the aedes mosquito which transmits the nasty dengue fever virus. While that could be true, far more common habitats for aedes mosquitos are clogged gutters, plates under potted plants and discarded plastic containers. It would be a shame to shun the traveller’s palm for this reason.

Raffles Hotel Singapore advertising material

The East-West orientation business mentioned in this image is supposed to be a myth. However the orientation of the leaves on my tree is exactly East-West so perhaps there is something in it after all.


If Raffles Hotel in Singapore needs any help in improving the look of its Traveller’s Palms I am available for hire.

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Cape Rachado – Pulau Masjid Beach

Three and a half years ago (time flies!) I wrote on this blog about Cape Rachado (Tanjung Tuan).

At that time I explored the lighthouse and the beach at the tip of the headland known as Pulau Intan beach.

I went back again recently to look for another beach, Pulau Masjid. Here is how to get there.

Map showing location of Pulau Masjid, Cape Rachado

After walking on the tarmac road through the forest from the main gate for about 10 minutes you will see a path leading off to the left.

Turn left here to go to Pulau Masjid Beach

Take that path which starts off as a concrete pavement with railings and later turns into a jungle track.

Path leading to Pulau Masjid Beach, Tanjung TuanPath leading to Pulau Masjid Beach, Tanjung Tuan

It only takes another ten minutes or so to descend to the beach. On the way you pass a well that looks pretty old, and a short stretch of boardwalk.

Old well at Pulau Masjid, Tanjung TuanBoardwalk to Pulau Masjid, Cape Rachado

Eventually you emerge at the shoreline and you can go left or right. On the right are some shelters and a sliver of beach where a frangipani tree somehow manages to survive.

Shelters on Pulau Masjid Beach, Tanjung TuanBeach at Pulau Masjid, Tanjung Tuan

The better beach is off to the left, overlooking an island, presumably the island that the beach is named after. There are some shelters here too.

Pulau Masjid Beach, Cape Rachado, Port Dickson

The water looked clear and clean but there was nobody there apart from a couple of fishermen.

Pulau Masjid Beach, Cape Rachado, Port Dickson

If you are looking for a peaceful spot away from the crowds on the nearby Port Dickson beaches you could consider this place. Take a few people along with you though – I thought there was a slightly eerie atmosphere here, but perhaps it was just the gloomy weather!

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Beautiful Art for a Beautiful Cause


École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine, Hanoi

When France was a colonial power it liked to infuse its overseas territories with a liberal dose of French culture. So in the case of Indochina, that included the French language, the Catholic religion, baguettes, wine, coffee, gendarmes and an appreciation of the arts.

The École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine was established in Hanoi in 1925 and it instilled western art traditions in generations of fine Vietnamese artists while laying the foundation for the development of a distinctively Vietnamese style of modern art.


   Left: Marché de montagne, by Nguyễn Tường Lân (before 1946).                                                 Right: Lê Phô (1907-1947)

The school survived wars and independence and has since evolved into the Vietnam University of Fine Arts. Vietnam today is well known for its artists who can knock up a fine reproduction Monet or Van Gogh as well as produce the Vietnam street scenes that are so popular with foreign tourists.

Of course, most art is produced for profits but while researching Da Nang I came across a gallery with a nobler cause.

The Da Nang Artists Company aims to provide talented, disabled Vietnamese artists with a way to market their artwork to an appreciative international clientele.

This acrylic painting of Hoi An was is the work of disabled artist Nguyen Tan Hien who lost the use of his legs and partial use of his arms following a traffic accident.  He is a self-taught artist and did not have the benefit of University of Fine Arts training but I think his work is rather nice. Here is one of his watercolours:

You can find more paintings and some silk brocade work on Da Nang Artist’s website. They are available for sale at very reasonable prices and can be shipped world wide.

Da Nang Artists is run by a big-hearted American couple called Virginia and David Lockett who also run a small charity called Steady Footsteps providing physical rehabilitation for disabled people in Central Vietnam. Virginia is an experienced physical therapist who wanted to help improve the lives of the disabled in Vietnam. In 2005 they gave up their comfortable life in America and moved to Da Nang to begin their good work.

Please take a look at Steady Footsteps’ website and read their inspiring story. You might even want to give a donation. They draw no salary so 100% of all contributions goes directly to the people who need it (unlike organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children or Oxfam whose senior staff pay themselves six-figure, fat-cat salaries from your donations).

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